Ramblings on pulp comics inspired films: 1

Watched the film The Shadow this weekend, starring Alec Baldwin an actor with almost no charisma whatsoever, and Penelope Ann Miller, more of whom later. We're not sure if it is based on an old comic strip or is one of those retro comics that is designed to look as if it was an old one, like The Rocketeer, which we also watched recently.

We have never understood the American (and French and Japanese) fascination with comic books. Surely the definition of growing up is reading books with no pictures in them? Admittedly some of the graphic work on the covers is often eyecatching (like these by Michael Kaluta)but they are usually disappointing inside and..they are comics! When Agent Triple P was little he used to read Look & Learn magazine which featured a comic strip called The Trigan Empire with art by Don Lawrence. This was serious painting and we haven't really seen anything to match it since.

Hollywood seems constantly surprised by the regular failure of films based on comics, not seeming to realise that just as Hollywood has to dumb down a book for the screen it has to dumb down a comic book; except you are starting form a much lower level of dumb to start with. The only film that made an impact with Agent Triple P being Spiderman 2 which cleverly employed double Oscar winning screenwriter Alvin Sergeant to give the sort of polish to the script so sadly lacking from The Shadow and The Rocketeer.

Both films look rather good, set as they are in the late thirties, but, as someone once said, you don't come out of a movie whistling the sets. On balance I would give the nod to The Rocketeer for catching the look of late thirties Hollywood so well. The nightclub set is a wonder to behold and so is the clever pastiche of the set of The Adventures of Robin Hood. Interestingly, The Phantom also has a nightclub scene (it is set in new York rather than Los Angeles) but the design is not so memorable, although some of the other sets are quite striking. Three years extra development in the world of digital effects is apparent in The Phantom as well; some of The Rocketeer effects are a bit ropey.

Musically, although The Phantom has a score by Jerry Goldsmith, it is one of his by the numbers jobs and doesn't hold a candle to one of James Horner's best scores for The Rocketeer.

Given a wet Sunday afternoon Agent Triple P would probably choose The Rocketeer as mindless entertaintment but that is perhaps more to do with the rather lighter tone of the piece. In our next post we will turn to the critical duel between the two leading ladies.

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